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Getting Virtual Meetings Right

Getting Virtual Meetings Right

The novel coronavirus pandemic has shifted much of life online. Among the biggest changes are in the world of conferences and meetings. While replicating the intimacy and spontaneity of a coffee break or an exhibit hall is a tall order, there are things you can do to ensure the core aspects of every meeting—sessions and attendee interactivity—are built into your events. Let’s take a look at a few.

Start from the attendee perspective

One of the best strategies for making a virtual meeting better is to look at it from an attendee’s point of view. What are they looking for, and how do they expect to use the opportunity that you’re presenting?

The Chronicle of Higher Education just featured a relevant piece on the subject by Thomas Tobin, an expert in online teaching long before the novel coronavirus pandemic hit. The focus was on explaining how attendees can get the most out of virtual conferences. It offered insight that organizations can use to make sure they are hitting the marks from event planning and execution perspectives.

Among the tips offered: attendees should think narrow and small. In other words, the more specific a topic, the more valuable a learning experience it is likely to be. “Look for narrowly conceived sessions that will help you learn or improve a specific skill,” Tobin writes. “Find and attend more of those than large plenary sessions on broad themes.”

Similarly, Tobin advocates for smaller meetings vs larger ones. While large meetings may sound like they offer greater opportunities to connect and be a part of something large, smaller meetings are better at fostering engagement.

Speaking of engagement, Tobin says one of the most effective ways to ensure conference knowledge sticks with an attendee is to talk about it afterwards—preferably, as soon as possible. As an organizer, you can facilitate this by offering small breakout sessions designed for participants to engage. You can also create hashtags or special groups on platforms such as Facebook and LinkedIn set aside especially for attendees.

Tobin also advocates that attendees connect with their conferences before the events start. This means downloading dedicated apps and, critically, becoming familiar with any platforms or technologies the conference will feature. As a conference organizer, you can be proactive by offering tutorials, question-and-answer sessions, or a simple set of instructions that walk would-be attendees through how you will put on your event. Don’t assume everyone knows Zoom or Google Meet. Instead, take the approach of being as inclusive as possible.

“You can tell that online-conference organizers are well prepared if they provide opportunities ahead of the event for self-guided and/or facilitated practice with the common tools that will be used throughout the meeting,” Tobin writes. “They will also offer you the chance to practice with the tools they plan to use for social interactions, such as chat apps or connection tools in the conference mobile app.”

Tobin’s entire article is available here: https://www.chronicle.com/article/how-to-make-the-most-of-a-virtual-conference. If virtual conferences are in your future, it’s worth the time to read.

Fine-tuning your event

With a topic in place and plenty of pre-meeting preparations planned for attendees, it’s time to shift your thinking to executing the event itself. A recent TechRadar piece shared a few valuable pointers for ensuring your event resonates.

Among the key tips is the suggestion that live events do best. While it’s not always possible to have presenters available during their speaking slots (meaning they record their talks), live is by far the preferred method. “Live presentations are simply more authentic to the audience,” Derek Weeks and Mark Miller, co-founders of the All Day DevOps tech conference, write in their co-written piece. “Think of the difference you feel when watching live television versus a pre-recorded episode. Live events have better engagement.” Plus, it’s hard to ask questions to a panelist that has submitted a recorded presentation!

This doesn’t mean your sessions should not be recorded for attendees, however. By all means, record your sessions for later consumption. But the more live content you have, the better—and you should promote your event as such.

Another item that Weeks and Miller say is often overlooked but very important is having a code of conduct, and enforcing it. Simply put, attendees want to engage without any concern that bad individuals will detract from the experience. “Just because it’s online doesn’t mean that everyone behaves appropriately,” they write. “If people misbehave, don’t be afraid to boot them from your platform.”

Like Tobin, Weeks and Miller also laud dedicated channels for attendees to connect and collaborate. These should be available during the meeting—think instant-messaging features of live video conferencing software—as well as after the event via social media or other means. Your event will start conversations, so give attendees places to keep them going.

Check out more of what Weeks and Miller had to say here: https://www.techradar.com/news/10-best-practices-for-running-a-virtual-conference.

Personalization and connection

Virtual events have many advantages over in-person ones. They are easier to scale, easier to attend, and offer the convenience of being able to go back and experience them later. But the one thing a virtual event cannot do is replicate the intimacy and shared in-person collaboration of a live event.

So what do you do to help close that gap for attendees? As mentioned above, start by giving them platforms to talk on. A more subtle but equally important part of forming that connection is the classic swag bag or conference gift. How many times have you seen a backpack, messenger bag, or bag tag with a certain conference logo on it and thought, “Hey, that’s my industry!” Giving virtual attendees that same sense of community is possible—it just takes a little more effort.

Offer sponsorship to a company for a giveaway, and then tell attendees they can have the gift sent to them for free if they provide their mailing address. This not only helps empower the community, but it can beef up your database for future outreach.

 

GRC Marketplace

We have several clients that have had success connecting virtual attendees using customized promotional items from our GRC Marketplace (www.grcmarketplace.com). Some are sticking with traditional conference gifts such as key chains or bags, while others are getting creative during the pandemic by sending out stress balls or touch tools that can be used for everything from elevator buttons to point-of-sale pin pads.

Putting it all together

Virtual events are more than just sitting in front of a camera and broadcasting. They require not only different technology but also a different perspective. Recognizing this is the first step to creating a successful and well-received event.

We’re happy to help you plan and execute your virtual event. Reach out and start a conversation!

Contact us today.
sherene@grassrootcommunication.com
info@grassrootcommunication.com
540.428.7000

Fundraising During COVID-19: Adapt–Don’t Start Over

The novel coronavirus pandemic has changed just about every aspect of our society in some way. Even setting aside damage caused directly by the COVID-19 virus, many people are worse off now than they were before the pandemic started. For nonprofits, especially those focused on humanitarian causes, this offers both challenges and opportunities.

Many of the challenges are obvious. More unemployed people mean less disposable income to spend. While entertainment options are down thanks to pandemic-related lockdowns, so are household incomes. That puts pressure on fundraisers and their causes.

Reaching donors is more difficult as well. The post office is under the same pressure as all other service organizations, trying to keep customers happy while navigating the pandemic’s hurdles.

Of course, the job losses and general financial pressures mean more people need more help from charitable organizations, too—yet another challenge that puts a strain on nonprofits to deliver.

While challenges may be easy to spot, opportunities may not jump out right away. Altering your perspective, you will see that the pandemic’s new way of living and working has created some potential opportunities to tap into, and even grow, your donor base.

Adjust your tactics

The pandemic’s reality means that common fundraising tactics are not all applicable. In-person events, from onsite auctions to black-tie galas, are generally off-limits for a while. Printed mail campaigns are possible, yet the postal service’s challenges make them less optimal at the moment.

Online interaction, on the other hand, is exploding. Even if your donors were regular participants in your digital campaign before, there is always room to grow. Simply put, anybody who has online access (and the vast majority of your donors and potential donors do) is connecting. Whether it’s on their phones, tablets, or computers, you want to give your audience plenty of ways to connect with you—and help you—without leaving their homes.

Empower your community

Many of our clients use digital tactics in their fundraising. These are good when you start planning an all-virtual campaign. But familiar methods such as personalized email outreach or social media-backed efforts to drive patrons to online donor pages should be complementary efforts, not primary strategies.

Why? Simply put, each business and organization is trying to reach its customers, donors, and audiences via digital channels: Emails, sponsored tweets, social posts. Messages get lost in the noise.

Instead, think about ways to narrow your audience and bring focus to your cause. For instance, set up a crowd-funding page with a specific donation goal. Ideally, the platform will include social components that kick in when donors contribute, enabling them to spread the word.

Then, target your super-donors—those most active members based on both donations and online activity. (This is important: a mega-donor during the pandemic isn’t just someone who gives often or gives a lot, but also someone who responds to your digital nudges.)

Integrating email outreach and social media mentions (like a dedicated campaign hashtag) into a crowdfunding-style push can build momentum. It can also leverage your donors as evangelists.

Another idea is to use a peer-to-peer fundraising platform to engage your donors. This is where you are using your donors to reach out to their peers on your behalf—think of charity runs where you pledge money to a participant. It’s the same idea, but all online.

Among the many benefits of peer-to-peer fundraising is that it stretches your campaign dollars and helps create organic awareness for your cause. It also helps get your most ardent supporters involved and, like a dedicated crowdfunding campaign, usually has specific goals broken up into smaller dollar amounts and shared among the peers.

To assist the nonprofit, there are many helpful software providers from which to choose. One of them, CauseVox, has an excellent primer on how to set up a peer-to-peer program (https://www.causevox.com/blog/peer-to-peer-fundraising-primer/).

An alternative to a full peer-to-peer campaign is the do-it-yourself (DIY) fundraiser. If you’ve seen social media posts that link a birthday celebration and donating to a specific cause, for example, you’ve seen DIY fundraising in action. Typically, these require less organization than a full peer-to-peer campaign, and your fundraisers can work on their own schedules, as opposed to being linked to a specific campaign window.

Adapt what works

The pandemic is forcing organizations and donors to adapt, but that doesn’t mean everything has changed. Tactics that worked before social distancing can be modified to fit the new circumstances.

For example, auctions can still be used as fundraisers, with slight adaptation. Before, it was easy to add a silent auction table to a larger in-person event. With events being cut back, this is harder but not necessarily impossible. Consider setting up online auctions and then partnering with related virtual events. You can share promotional efforts and raise the profile of both the virtual event and your cause.

No event to help boost your effort? No problem! Set up a stand-alone online auction that you can promote through your channels.

There are many platforms that can help you manage the process—some even take only a percentage of what is sold, making the costs appealing.

A related idea worth exploring is online marketplaces, such as eBay, that have dedicated programs allowing sellers to give their proceeds to charity. With people spending a lot more time at home, de-cluttering is a popular pastime. Connecting the ability to turn unwanted items into donations for you could be a win-win.

It may take some staff time to research and communicate the ins and outs (including getting your organization set up to receive donations from the site), but once in place, such a program could pay dividends long after the pandemic is gone. EBay’s instructions on direct selling for a charity are here: https://www.ebay.com/help/donating-ebay-charity/default/buying-selling-ebay-benefit-nonprofit-organizations?id=4668#section2

GRC Marketplace

One of the most time-tested tactics for boosting donations is a thank-you gift. The pandemic hasn’t changed this, although it may be altering some of the chosen items. Giving donors who contribute at certain thresholds a mug, tote bag, or some other useful item remains popular. Clients using our recently launched GRCMarketPlace (www.grcmarketplace.com) have added some pandemic-appropriate items as well. We’re seeing touch tools that can be used for everything from elevator buttons to PIN pads, customized masks, and even stress balls!

Coming up with a fun, useful thank-you gift and connecting with your donors asking for a minimum donation is a proven tactic. There’s no reason it can’t be used now.

How can we help?

Fundraising is a matter of strategizing, shifting, and adapting. The pandemic hasn’t changed this—it’s simply changed some of the outcomes. We’re engaged with clients on a regular basis, coming up with new approaches that factor in their circumstances, those of their donors, and the temporary disruptions that the pandemic has created. We’re happy to answer any questions you may have about adjusting your strategies to meet your goals.

Contact us today.
sherene@grassrootcommunication.com
info@grassrootcommunication.com
540.428.7000

Grassroot Communication Unveils GRC Marketplace, Its New Division Specializing In Cost-Effective, Innovative, Branded Promotional Items

Grassroot Communication has expanded its offerings to include promotional products via its new GRC Marketplace online portal.

GRC Marketplace, available at www.GRCMarketplace.com, enables businesses, non-profits and associations to match the perfect promotional items with their campaigns. The new GRC Marketplace offers a million customizable products at a range of prices that can fit into every promotional budget.

“With our decades of experience helping clients create effective, multi-channel marketing campaigns, expanding into promotional products is a natural step,” said Sherene Rapoport, Grassroot’s vice president of sales and marketing. “The timing is ideal as well, as using innovative tactics such as giveaways. Creative reminders to stay in front of clients is becoming a valuable way to stand out during the current period of social distancing.”

GRC Marketplace

Customers can browse the online marketplace’s 1,000,000 products and consult with us on a simple item. In addition, Grassroot’s team will help craft the ideal campaign based on the objective, budget, and timeframe. A dedicated contact for GRC Marketplace customers, Betsy Hall, has extensive experience in the promotional products business and is ready to help all existing and future Grassroot customers.

Ready to add promotional items to your next campaign? Need branded items for your staff or customer-facing elements of your business? Visit www.GRCMarketplace.com and get started!